Hangouts/Roll20 Gaming: Past and Future

As most of you know, I finished up a Fate game about a month ago that ran via Google Hangouts and the Roll20 plugin (session videos here). I’d originally thought it would run around 6 sessions (my rough estimate for a face to face tabletop environment with ~3.5 hour sessions), and it ended up at 9, not because Hangouts made it take longer (if anything, Hangouts and Roll20 sped things up) but because we ran shorter sessions of about 2 to 2.5 hours each.

It took right around 3 months to get in 9 ‘weekly’ sessions which, for adult gamers with many commitments, isn’t at all bad: 9 sessions in around 12 weeks, with one player suffering technical problems and another who lost a family member and was unavailable for a couple weeks. I entirely attribute this session/week ratio to the flexibility Hangouts gave us – no one had to travel to the game location, and thus no one had to budget extra time for packing up their stuff, getting presentable, driving over, and getting home after: they just logged at the right time, logged out at the end, and boom – they’re home already and there’s no gaming group to clean up after.

wifi
And you can play pretty much anywhere.

(Honestly, Hangouts made the game possible in the first place: player locations ranged from the east coast to Alaska.)

This setup (short-ish scenario, running to conclusion over a limited period of time) worked well, and based on that, there are at least a few other games I’d like to play pretty soon with, if anything, even shorter arcs. These include:

  • The Mountain Witch, which is pretty much designed for playing in two to three sessions, and which has a pretty non-crunchy system with nonetheless brutal mechanics.
  • Fiasco, maybe several times, using different play sets. I’ve never played this, but I have high hopes, and as a GMless game it appeals to me. I’ve actually built an “Amber Throne War” playset that I’d like to play…

That said, I can also see a couple decent ways to do longer running campaigns, and I might try one of them fairly soon, as well: I’m thinking of an Atomic Robo (Fate) campaign with a couple basic guidelines:

  • Scenarios that either wrap up in one session or which everyone understands may not resolve the very next week.
  • A rotating cast of characters.
  • A slightly larger pool of involved players than I’d want to GM, if they all showed up.

The idea here is a sort of “monster of the week” setup, where we play with whichever Tesladyne employees are available that week, and no one stresses out if they can’t make it. This would let us run regardless of schedule conflicts (potentially improving the session/week ratio even more) and, if we didn’t wrap up in one session, we’d have the option to continue that arc whenever that same group of players were available (maybe allowing in an additional action scientist in part 2 as surprise backup or whatever), rather than forcing a delay until all those same players could make it.

(Also worth considering: with the folks playing, there’s a better than normal chance that some sessions would have a guest GM and I could just play, which would be awesome.)

Pretty much the same setup would work (I think) with Ryan M. Danks’s Jadepunk (which is built mostly on the very pickup-friendly Fate Accelerated and Ryan’s own design kung-fu), though I’m pretty sure some kind of over-arching metaplot would creep in on that one, just because of the setting. I consider that a feature.

I plan to pitch this (these?) to my Google+ gaming peeps pretty soon and see who’s interested.

Offline

So. Yeah. Here’s a post.

My kids' effect on my online time.
My attempts to get any kind of decent sleep.
The net sum of everything going on in my brain right now.

Apologies to those waiting on posts. Triple apologies to the guys in EvE, whom I haven’t even seen in like a week and a half.

Kids are awesome, but some weeks are less awesome than others.

Brain Damage

Randy’s running this low-powered supers-in-Gotham thing. Interesting background. Interesting atmosphere. Running it with Mutants and Masterminds, which is a 3.x d20 riff.

I’ve been feeling a vague hankering for supers stuff. (Dear City of Heroes — go Free to Play. Signed, Me.)

I expressed an interest, came up with a concept, dug around on the internet and found a couple write-ups that seemed to have the powers I wanted, mushed them all into one sheet, sent it to him and said “here – something like this, but balanced to your power level.”

As one does.

Then a couple things happened.

  1. I ran into one of the players already in the game and we talked about the schedule for the game.
  2. Randy sent me the revised sheet, with all the math done.

These two events raised some concerns for me.

Looking at the finalized character sheet resulted in a strong negative reaction. A gut reaction. It may be fair to say that my penetralia actually cringed — absent any motive will on my part — seeking to drag me away from the computer and the thing on the screen by my very entrails. It’s not that the design of the character was bad or that it didn’t do what I wanted — it’s that the mechanics and game the sheet represents just make me angry. Angry and filled with a helpless kind of dread.

I’m starting to suspect that all those years of d20 gaming actually damaged me. I wonder if don’t remember this because I can’t.

Show me on the character sheet where it touched you...

Secondarily, I’m concerned about (any) games where the schedule is “we start at Xpm, and play to whenever.” That sort of play has historically been frustrating for me. Seeing it posted as the consilii diem amounts to a huge fucking red flag labeled “You Will Regret This.”

Tim may laugh at this, but I’ve developed a huge appreciation for the games I’ve played that have a time constraint on the amount of time available to play. They are, uniformly, the games I’ve enjoyed the most, and which gave the most satisfying results and focused play. TiHE (until we switched from “Monday nights” to “all-day Sundays”). The Wednesday night gaming series. Mouseguard (which is actually time-constrained within the game itself). Dragon Age (sessions that, while on the weekends, have all had hard-stops built in). Most convention play is, I think, stronger for this. It may be the only thing I really miss about local conventions.

Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m not willing to give a game a shot if doesn’t meet certain baseline criteria — doubtful it can overcome the deficiency. Once bitten, twice shy?

Maybe.

My reaction to the basic core of the game system, though — like a growling, whining dog in the presence of a vampire — makes me suspect this may be something more/less than the reasoned response of a thinking adult with some significant non-game commitments.

Meta-gaming, Actor-Stance, Author-stance, and Narration

Twitter. The final frontier new hotness. These are the transcripts of gaming nerds, trying to discuss involved game sessions using nerd jargon, in 140 characters or less.

After Wednesday night’s PTA game (where we are now 4/6 on our season of Ironwall), Tim (cyface) tweeted:

cyface A good game of #sg-pta last night. Had to tie @doycet to the stone table to make him RP instead of Metagame, but we got there. 🙂

Now, I know Tim meant no harm in his comment, and I know specifically (I think) which scene he was (mostly) referring to, but I couldn’t resist a reply.

doycet @cyface I attribute my flighty non-rpness to being really unsure if we’d get the bloody episode done on time without fast-forwarding.

Which unsurety stemmed from the fact that one guy’s spotlight episode (Tim’s, actually) coincided with a ‘screen presence: 2’ for every other character: two of them ramping up to their spotlight eps, and one coming down off his spotlight and ‘wrapping up’. There was a lot going on!

Then, of course, I started second guessing myself:

doycet @cyface Unless I’m that bad all the time — in which case… yeah, I don’t know.

Tim replied:

cyface @doycet Some of both, but generally, live for the moment, as long as the moment is good!

Meera also commented (in a reflection of the fact that she still feels she’s learning to grok some of the indie voodoo):

mtfierce @cyface Funny, I thought @doycet only metagamed in pity for the kids at the back of the indie class.

Which is a kind thing to say, and perhaps more consideration than I warrant — I know one of the things I’ve failed at with PTA in the past has been meta-level discussion of the events in the game in lieu of… you know… PLAYING.  It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid (pretty successfully, I believe) in the current season of play.

So went back and really thought about the game session (and previous sessions) in an analytical (and somewhat unkind) fashion.  That analysis prompted my next couple statements:

doycet @cyface Trying to analyze my play — is it meta-game, or doing author-stance narration? If it’s the later, then… yeah, I am. For me, authoring > acting.

doycet @cyface By “>”, I mean “more personal enjoyment/comfortable for me”. I do enjoy both kinds of play in others, and even acting for myself… in smaller doses.

This led us off into a (more profitable, IMO) discussion.

cyface @doycet It’s an interesting question. Assuming author is being well cared for, I’d prolly choose actor. But if author bad, actor = painful

cyface @doycet …and thus I’d choose author since I think it’s affects more people at once. If I can stabilize author, back to actor.

Hmm. Okay, I understand, here, what Tim’s saying, I think: “Assuming the story isn’t careening off the rails, I’d rather ‘play my guy’ and not step back into an author-level role unless necessary.”  Which is fine, but not exactly what I was talking about. To whit:

doycet @cyface Not 100% we mean the same wrt ‘author stance’. I just mean ‘playing my guy’ in 3rd person (author), rather than 1st person (actor).

doycet @cyface So, put another way, I-the-player am more comfortable playing in 3rd person than 1st, and wonder if my 3rd-person play reads, to you, as meta-play.

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I think there may be >2 modes: 1st prsn RP, 3rd prsn authorial description, omniscient scene narration, & meta-level “pre-summary”.

Here, I’m basically co-opting Forge-speak terms for stuff.

  • Actor-stance. The way I’m using it, I mean interacting with the game from your character’s 1st person point-of-view.  Obviously, you’re only using info the character knows, and your play is mostly roleplay, in the traditional, non-game sense.
  • Author-stance. You’re still just playing your guy, but the POV is more of a personalized 3rd-person, rather than 1st-person. Your character is still only acting ‘as they would act’, but rather than sort of improv’d roleplay acting, you may be describing their actions and what they say, rather than playing them out.
  • Director Stance. The player actually determines aspects of the story relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character’s knowledge or ability to influence events. So, the player not only determines their character’s actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters. (I do this all the time – it still isn’t meta-play.)
  • Meta-level “play” is, for me, something to be avoided, where you’d doing stuff like “Okay, if I succeed here, this is exactly what happens, and if you succeed, this is exactly what happens…” and then we roll dice (or whatever) and… there’s nothing left to PLAY, cuz we already described every possible outcome, so we just tic a box on the form we already filled out and go on to the next scene.  Some folks (me included) think of this as ‘playing before you actually play’.

So… yeah, if I read Tim’s first tweet as being backed with all this terminology (I rather doubt it was, and good for him), then I’d have thought he was saying I was doing that last thing.  Hopefully, what he was saying was that I was doing more Director Stance wankery (which, to be fair, I enjoy) rather than Actor (which, to be fair, Tim seems to (inexplicably) enjoy seeing me do).

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I’d say only meta-“pre-summary” is sucky “playing-without-play”, but either rules/results analysis -or- bad scene narration can BECOME that thing, by accident.

Now, personally, I don’t necessarily think Author or Director stances are bad – I’m a writer, so of course I enjoy looking at the scene from the CAMERA’S point of view, rather than the actors.  I’d go so far as to say I actually prefer them over Actor stance (full on, first person roleplay) for myself, but I’m at ease enough in my own neuroses to admit that at least one (lesser) reason I find them more comfortable (read: safe) is because when I get into first-person roleplaying in a scene, I get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene.

Well, duh.  Of course I do.  Let me rephrase.

“I’ll actually (sometimes) get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene than I’m comfortable with, and I’m concerned I might  make my fellow players uncomfortable with the level of my emotional involvement (when I play angry, I’ll get angry, et cetera), so I instinctively avoid it… That’s actually happened in the past, and I make me feel a little oogey.”

Said oogeyness is entirely a trust issue, and I really should cowboy-up and let go of my trust issues when I’m playing with the Wednesday group. Feh.

But still… that issue aside, I just plain like author/director modes.

What about you guys?

—-

In a weird bit of synchronicity, Paul Czege made this comment on a thread over on Story Games just last week:

I think lots of indie games have skewed many of us to where our play behavior is more like authoring at each other than it is character play. We play many indie games to use the engine of the mechanics to author something that affects the other players. But the result is, paradoxically, less affecting.

Because for a story to be affecting, it must be made from some of the author’s bare personality and honest identity. When a player’s character is a tool for affecting others, more than a membrane for two-way communication, play is “awesome” but boring. We appreciate the creativity and talents of our fellow players, but have no contact with their identities.

So there’s that. I don’t think Paul is wrong.

“This ends in Mud.”

david-petersen-mouse-guard-4((The title of this session is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the finest, most awesome line in the new Mouse Guard collection, Winter 1152.))

A player couldn’t make our ongoing PTA season this week, so the remaining players and I opted to do a one-shot with Mouse Guard.

Since chargen takes quite a bit of time for new folks, I ran the whole thing as a series of questions in a (55 reply!) email thread. Here’s what they came up with:

  • Chris: Jerrick is a 33 year old patrol leader originally from Dawnrock. He had a natural talent as a survivalist and leader that led him to the Guard. As a tenderpaw and later a patrol mouse, he specialized in pathfinding, and has a reputation for never losing a mouse in any of his patrols. He is wise in the ways of mice, wilderness, motivation, and tracks. He believes “there’s always another way”, and his Instinct is to protect the mice of his Patrol at any cost.
  • Randy: Faolan is a 20 year old patrol mouse originally from Shaleburrow. He had a natural talent as a fighter; and he is extremely Bold — the guard seemed a natural fit for him… once he could be convinced not to attack everything at first blush. In Lockhaven, he was assigned to Rand (who was on his final wilderness patrol). Rand focused on his training as a scout, but his specialty (and first love) has always been fighting. He is wise in the ways of scrounging and predators. He believes “success comes through victory”, and his Instinct is to always keep a sharp blade.
  • Meera: Yarrow is a 25 year old tenderpaw — unusually old to join the guard, she applied to the guard several years after her home, Walnutpeck, was lost in the Weasel War — an event that left her and all the other survivors of the wonderful, wood-carved town Bitter. She grew up with her parents (Brand and Ivy) and learned the ways of the apiary from them – a common trade in Walnutpeck, whose apiaries were second to none, prior to the War. Her generous nature made her many friends — most of whom are now gone. She deceived the guard about her age and was eventually found out, but was allowed to stay anyway. In Lockhaven, she was assigned to Jerrick, who focused on her training as a healer and survivalist; her training thus far has been… eclectic. She is tough (all those bee-stings) and wise in the ways of weasels. She believes you must “think with your head and act with your heart”, and her Instinct is to always have a second exit available.

Prep was pretty simple: I used the Mission Burner method that someone posted on Story Games, and came up with the following:

PICK A SETTLEMENT
– Pick a settlement one or more of the patrol members are from or have history with: DAWNROCK

(Jerrick is from there, and Yarrow had a friend there – a loremouse named Siaran.)

IN THE PAST
– Weather messed something up there.

(Specifically, Spring snowmelt and rain caused a mudslide that snapped the wheel off the town’s only Mill.)

IN THE PRESENT (YOUR MISSION)
– Important mice or supplies must be accompanied to the settlement.

(Carpentry tools and a Carpenter (Faolan’s old Carpentry artisan to whom he was apprenticed: Sable.))

– Wild animals are creating difficulties for the settlement.

(The possibility exists that creatures emerging from winter hibernation might pose a problem to repairing the Mill — I’m thinking, since we’re on a “mud” theme: Bullfrog.)

IN THE FUTURE
– The difficulties will experience an unexpected twist

(See: Bullfrog.)

The Mission: “This ends in Mud”

Escort Sable (carpenter who once apprenticed Faolan) to Dawnrock with supplies, then help that settlement repair their mudslide-damaged Mill.

GM TURN

1. Get to Dawnrock. Pathfinder Test: Ob6 (Spring).
— ((Conditions Failure: Main person is Tired, helpers are Hungry and Thirsty.)) *OR*
— ((Twist Failure: Mice are on the wrong side of a broad, swampy area that’s become nigh impassable in the Spring Thaw. Ob5 Boatcrafter or Ob8 Survivalist — Failure conditions on this are Tired (lead mouse) or Hungry & Thirsty))

2. Repair the Mill (Complex test – must perform 3)
Scientist Ob5 (Design new wheel); Laborer and/or Health Ob3 (clearing mud and damaged bits – hauling supplies); Carpenter Ob 6; Healer (to help Sable recover from the wet and muddy trip – he’s Sick).
— ((Twist Failure: A bullfrog emerges from his muddy winter hibernation where the Laborer mice are clearing, and decides to have one of them as a snack. Bullfrog Nature 5: Leaping, Croaking, Camouflage, Predator))

PLAYER TURN: Go!


How it Played Out

((None of the players have played MG before. Jerrick has read Burning Wheel. The other two players have read Fall 1152. That’s it. Avante!))

After a brief overview of how the system basically worked, we jumped in.

The scene opened with mud. Snow melt, last night’s rain… whatever the reason, the courtyard in Lockhaven was muddy.

Standing in that mud, staring at a cart (like the one the grain merchant was hauling in Fall 1152) loaded to the brim with carpentry supplies and tools, are Faolan and Yarrow.

Cut to: Jerrick, in Gwendolyn’s study. The matriarch is explaining that, while this isn’t a particularly glamorous assignment, it’s very important; the water wheel on Dawnrock’s only mill was snapped off in a mudslide — although they have many skilled stone masons, the town has no carpenter to speak of; Lockhaven has arranged to provide both carpentry supplies and a skilled carpenter — in exchange, Dawnrock will send down several wagonloads of milled grain in the fall.

Gwen’s captains suggested Jerrick be sent, as he’s from Dawnrock and knows the area.

Jerrick nods, then asks the more pertinent question. “Who’s the carpenter?”

Cut back to the courtyard, where a stooped oldfur toddles up to the guardmouse and tenderpaw.

“Oy! Give an old mouse a hand up onta that cart!”

Faolan peers. “S-Sable?”

“Aye! I be a deputy guard mouse, now, boy! Time to test alla that training I wasted on you!”

“You’re… going with us?”

“Aye! Now… get me up on that wagon! I’ll be able to see for miles!”

“Get. Down.” Jerrick was not in the mood to humor the oldfur when he reached the courtyard. There were younger carpenters in Lockehaven, and he was at a loss as to way this old fool was being sent into the wilderness.

Much cussing ensued, and moaning about having to walk, but eventually Sable got down.

((Thing I forgot: both Jerrick and Faolan have Patrol Captain Harrow as an Enemy — Harrow is the guy behind assigning them to glorified carpentry duty, and the one who arranged for a crotchety oldfur to be sent along. I was GOING to have him show up just before they left to make sure they knew that, but I got so wrapped up messing around playing Sable, I forgot. 😛 ))

Jerrick, well-known as an expert pathfinder, turned to his newest patrol member. “All right, Yarrow — how about you find us a way to Dawnrock?”

Yarrow seriously considered scurrying away.

((Pathfinder test. Ob6. Yarrow doesn’t HAVE Pathfinder. Beginner’s luck rules, with help from Faolan (scouting) and Jerrick (wilderness-wise), left her rolling 3 dice… needing six successes. Sure. Failure. GM opts for a twist.))

The patrol heads… well, mostly north. Jerrick is stoically silent as Yarrow leads them, refraining from any comment more helpful than “are you sure?”

A long day ends with the group staring at the murky morass of a spring-swollen swamp. Dawnrock lies somewhere on the other side. Doubling back will add another day to the trip; possibly two. Continuing forward will require some kind of boat. Or… raft. or… something.

They decide to sleep on it.

The next morning, Faolan starts scrounging up bits of wood and vine to contruct a viable raft. Yarrow helps out by hauling the stuff (laborer), Jerrick ‘supervised’ with motivation-wise, and even Sable “helped”… by criticizing Faolan’s clearly atrophied carpentry skills.

((Boatcrafting. Ob5. Faolan has a 2. 3 helping dice from others, plus Scrounge-wise gave him six dice to roll. 3 success. GM uses a Conditions Twist.))

While the raft that Faolan finally got strapped together was enough to keep the cart (mostly) out of the water, the whole thing was terribly top-heavy and nowhere near big enough for the mice to ride (except for Sable, some of the time). Yarrow and Jerrick waded along on either side of the raft, chest-deep in the water, while Faolan pushed on the thing from the back.

The raft got hung up on tufts of grass repeatedly, and was generally a nightmare to move, but by late afternoon, they had cleared the swamp. Soaked to the bone, they’d had no time to eat — Yarrow and Jerrick were Hungry, but Faolan was too Angry to be hungry.

Oh, and old Sable is sneezing and sniffling and clearly Sick.

Back on “dry” land, they set out for Dawnrock and got there well after dark. It took some talking, but the town guard finally let them in, and let them stay in the guard house — no wandering around town for the strange guardmice, not without the See’s say-so, so Jerrick couldn’t even go stay at his family’s home — nor could Yarrow visit her friend.

The next morning, the guard were greeted by the leaders of the town and enthusiastically led out to the mill site to start on repairs. There was much to do.

First, they decided that Sable needed to be seen to. Jerrick went back into town to find a shop selling medicinal herbs and such.

((Resource test: Ob 4. Player was rolling about 7 or 8 dice, thanks to some help and being in his home town. Easy success, giving +1D to Yarrow’s next roll.))

With the supplies in hand, Yarrow set about making an eye-watering, head-clearing poultice for Sable.

((Healer test: Ob 3. Yarrow’s Healer is 2, plus the +1d for supplies, plus help from Faolan. She got two successes, spent a Fate point to blow up a 6, and got another success. Victory! Healthy old carpenter coot!))

With a revitalized (and aromatic) master carpenter dealing with building a new wheel, Yarrow started leading the laborers as they cleared mud and detritus from the wheel’s final location, and Faolan started cutting down a new axle for the wheel (something Sable figured Faolan could handle).

((Laborer, Ob3. Yarrow has 2. Helping from everyone, including ‘supervision’ from Jerricks motivation-wise (best trait EVER). Success.))

((Carpenter, Ob… 4? Something like that. Helping dice abound. Player gets 3 successes, two of which are sixes, but opts not to go for the win, wanting to see what will happen.))

Yarrow is covered pretty much head to toe in mud, ears drooping, when she hears “Y-Yarrow? is that… you?”

Her ears droop further.

It’s her friend, the loremouse Siaran, native of Dawnrock, whom she was hoping to impress with her guard mouseliness (her Goal for this session).

He’s unfailingly impressed and enthusiastic about seeing her, however, and even volunteers to jump in and help with the clearing of mud. He rolls up his pant legs and sleeves, hops in, and starts shoveling with a passion only seen in over-enthusiastic scholars trying to show off.

His shovel bites into the mud and pokes a just-waking Bullfrog right on the nose.

The bullfrog is not amused. It croaks. Siaran croaks desperately back. It doesn’t seem to have much affect.

((CONFLICT! Bullfrog, Nature 5, vs. the patrol. Bullfrog Goal is “Eat Siaran.” Patrol goal is “drive off bullfrog, and keep it from ever coming back.”))

Disposition is rolled. I get 7. Players get 13! (Faolan spent a Fate point to blow up a bunch of sixes.)

Action 1: I script Attack. Players (Yarrow) script Defend (they’re new to scripting, but it worked out in their favor this time). Yarrow rolls her Nature to defend, and throws herself and Siaran down and out of the way of the whipping tongue (taxing her Nature).

I get four successes on five dice. Yarrow gets two, but they’re both sixes. She spends a Fate point, rolls the two new dice, and gets two more successes. Tie!

Action 2: I script Maneuver. Players (Jerrick, with a bow) scripts Maneuver. I get two success, and so do the players (which is a shame, cuz they were rolling a LOT of dice). We both get +2D to our next action…

Action 3: … which doesn’t matter for me, because I scripted Feint, and the Players (Faolan) scripted an all-out attack. I don’t get to roll at all, and Faolan got six success, then spent his last Fate point to blow up some sixes and finish off my last point of Disposition.

The bullfrog, shovel-smacked, bruised, and cut along its flank, flees the area. Awestruck locals cheer.

PLAYER TURN
Jerrick and Yarrow are Hungry and Thirsty, but this is Jerrick’s home town, so mom and pop fix them a nice meal, and that’s all taken care off with no Checks.

Jerrick, introduced to Yarrow’s friend, is very interested in the young mouse’s ability (unhelpful as it was) to speak Bullfrog, and spends a few days speaking of all things Loremouse. (Skill check on Loremouse. Two Success.)

Yarrow, chastised at her terrible pathfinding, gets up on the very highest parts of Dawnrock (which is atop a tall hill along the coast to boot) and takes many notes on the lay off the land she can see for miles and miles.
(Pathfinder beginner’s luck check: Success.)

Faolan’s time is spent more simply — at a pub, regaling the locals with retellings of the fight with the bullfrog, tossing back free (“medicinal”) beer, with cute young (“medicinal”) she-mice perched on his knee.
(Will check to recover from Angry: Success!)

A pretty fun time, even though we kind of forgot to set GOALS for the mission until very near the end. Bah. GM-failure.

Still, a good night, fun had by all (I think). Call it a win.

Love this game.

[PTA] Ironwall, Episode 1: The Ambassador

Wow, it’s been awhile since this episode aired, but as Episode 2 is playing tonight, I thought I’d better get a summary down.

I covered the pilot episode of this post-apocalyptic, fairies-are-back-and-they’re-pissed, survival drama here, in case you’re looking to get caught up.

Previously on Ironwall:

  • Shot of Sienna going all black magic scary in The Fairy Hill; children looking at her, horrified.
  • Shot of Cam meeting his shoulder-fairy for the first time out in the suburban ruins. “I want to come with you!”
  • Cam turning on Lennox in the cabin of the train. “Would you just back off?”
  • The Duke of the Fairy Hill, talking to Joseph. “My goodness; you’ve gone entirely native, haven’t you?”

OPENING

The camera zooms around the post-apocafunky island of not-Manhattan, showing us various settlements.

  • Where Upper East Side is today, we see patrols along the banks, a guardpost at Hellgate Bridge and on Roosevelt island (the bridge that crosses the East River at the island is torn out over the island, so that people have to cross by dropping down to the island, going through the guards, and then back up). There’s also a ship dock here that we take a little time looking at, so maybe that’s important.
  • Where the Upper West Side use to be, there are crumbling but well-maintained brownstones with anachronistically-dressed people (kind of feudal post-apoc chic) walking around the neighborhood, nodding and smiling to each other and looking secure.
  • All around Grand Central (where the sign over the doors just says CENTRAL), a bustling town-within-a-city, with lots of activity – working machinery, construction, conversation… some electric lights flickering to life as a generator sputters to life and a small group of people cheer while JOSEPH (J. Rhys-Meyers OMG) looks pensive.
  • We see the skyscrapers to the south end of the island, kestrels and other birds circling and nesting in the rusting framework. Most of the floors are open to the weather, and high up, a pair of watchers scan the horizon. One gets the others attention and points out to the sea. The second person pulls out binoculars, looks out to sea, and nods to the other, who goes over to the far side of the tower and starts ringing a bell.

We zoom back to “Central”, see Lennox (Viggo) turn toward the sound, looking first up at the iron towers, then in the direction of the sea. There are many buildings in the way, but by his frown and the look in his eyes, it seems he can see, or at least guess, what’s out there.

The camera zooms through those buildings (a big church, the NYC library, etc.) out to the sea, where we see a large sailboat, modern, but sort of gone primitive, with a kind of US gov’t emblem on the sail; again, a bit primitive. On the ship, in the prow, there is a woman in quasi-military, weirdly formal white attire, looking out at up at the city. The camera slows, starts moving more smoothly, pans around to look over her shoulder from her POV, and we see the City in silhouette as the sun sets behind it.

The silhouette goes black and we see it turn into the logo for the show as “IRONWALL” and the faun’s head fades in over it, the theme music fades in, and the OPENING CREDITS ROLL.


COMMERCIAL BREAK: Ironwall is brought to you – at least in my broadcast area – by Xcel Energy Wind Power, and the new Solarum hybrid from Kia. Someone got the word out that the show has a “you bastards blew it all to hell” eco-theme. Huh.


AND WE’RE BACK.

We start on the docks on Roosevelt Island, beneath the shattered span of bridge. All the key people are waiting for the woman in white to get off her fancy boat. Joseph (Rhys-Meyers) is there, but in the background: standing to the foreground of the crowd is the Old Priest and Lennox (Viggo). Our other principal actors are scattered around the crowd. There’s also a big fat man in a fancy coat and a lean, rangy looking guy, both standing next to the priest.

Here to help you. Not at all evil. Promise.
Here to help you. Not at all evil. Promise.

The woman in white looks too-clean white, and the first shot of her is almost upskirt, standing under a flag made by an aspiring Betsy Ross Jr. with old naval insignia and a couple of stars, maybe some stripes. Her first line is a little classic: “Don’t worry. We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”

She smiles to show it’s a joke, but no one’s really laughing.

Oh, it’s Bridget Regan. She introduces herself as Elizabeth Montclair, and makes a speech(standing on a stack of old computer monitors): she’s an ambassador from Washington-that-was, and she wants to establish an alliance with the settlements of “your city”. (She doesn’t call it Ironwall, but she doesn’t say New York, either. It feels like she wants to, but doesn’t.)

The speech is followed by scattered applause – a lot of people turn around and go about their business without clapping, but some people (the fat man in front) are SUPER PUMPED.


The Ambassador suggests a more private place to talk with the Leadery-types, and leaves her soldiers (did I mention she has a bunch of soldiers on the boat?) on the boat and goes with the Priest, the fat man, the lean guy, and Our Heroes to talk at The Church.

The Church is a little weird. There’s aren’t a ton of religious trappings, and I feel like their pretending it’s one of the cathedrals in NYC, but it’s not one I recognize. Most of the iconography is missing, and the front doors just have these BIG iron spikes mounted on them, like it means something. Hopefully we’ll find out more later.

Right now, it’s not important: the Church is just the Scoobies’ Library for now.

Lennox and Cam (rawr) sit in the pews listening, JOSEPH (again, Rhys-Meyers) is up front next to Father Ezekial. Sienna the Spooky Witch stands in the back, looking through the modest library.

The Ambassador comes clean (right) saying that actually, she needs the resources of the city to track down a threat that has escaped from her own city and was headed here – is probably here already. She is chasing a traitor from her settlement who is some kind of ‘skin-changer’. A human, but one who can shapeshift – ‘co-opting the worst of fey magic.’ She wants to bring her people (did I mention the soldiers) off the boat and conduct the search.

“We have an excellent success rate in tracking down fey hidden within humanity.”

Which sounds about as creepy-inquisition as it should, I think.

The fugitive woman (name: Veronica Jacobson) has an ‘everyskin-cloak’. The Ambassador indicates that the ‘needs’ of the cloak mean that the woman is probably going to start feeding on the locals in some way. Maybe she has already.

“So she is human?” – Cam
“I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment anymore.” – Montclair

OUR HEROES look for additional information, some to avoid a witchhunt (CAM), some curiosity (SIENNA), some guilty consciences (JOSEPH), and to make sure who is really in danger (LENNOX).

The Ambassador mentions, during the questioning, that part of the reason the coat is important is because it includes not just the black magic of torturing animals, but also the skins (and thus, associated abilities) of the fey.

So, there’s… like… fairy parts in this cloak? Like… torn-off flutterby wings and such? Eww.


OOC Comments

“‘Pensive’ is very big this year.” – Doyce, overusing the word.

“She’s an Ambassador. She’s here to Ambass.” – Doyce

“Snuffleupaghi?” – Tim, musing on the kinds of skins the cloak might incorporate.


Next, a MONTAGE scene showing posters going up, people being talked to, observations being made in whatever way is most appropriate to each character.

All this leads to someone getting a lead.

“Good news, we found her, bad news is, she’s taken Clemens.”

Right… who’s that again?

“We think we found her, but Clemens is missing…”
“…and there’s a lot of meat on Clemens.”

Ohh… Clemens (Gailard Sartain) is the fat man — who is also probably the guy in charge of the fancy Upper West Side people.

There is some planning about how to take this woman-monster thing down, which gave up a good line:

“You can’t go in loaded for bear if she’s going to be a bat.”


Anyway, Lennox (who apparently has Fey-dar) leads the way to a warehouse somewhere along the Hudson shoreline. The whole place is kind of boggy, because the Hudson has reclaimed a lot of the lower-lying areas along the southwest side of the island, but it’s not totally underwater.

So there’s a chase/fight in a warehouse. It’s dark and tense and everyone has crappy old flashlights that barely work (except for CAM, whose flashlight is awesome and can SEAR THE RETINA.

Now, here’s the thing; according to the Buffy Bible of Show Order, everyone should get their asses kicked by this monster, and only beat her in the second attempt at the end of the episode, but … no. The woman goes down without a huge fight. Sienna reminds Lennox he needs to +DESTROY+ her coat.

“I wouldn’t trust me with it.”

They pull the coat off the woman (which apparently REALLY REALLY HURTS), and then Lenn pours oil over it and makes sure it burns. It does, but it also writhes and screams while it does so… which is creepy.

Lennox is frowning – showhow, he thought this would be harder.


COMMERCIAL BREAK: Ironwall is brought to you by Kiva, who bought the whole 90 second spot so they could really explain the charity. Huh. Good idea; Ironwall is nerd-tasty, and Kiva is the kind of Charity nerds would probably like.


Sienna is with Father Ezekial and captured girl as they bind wounds caused by pulling the coat off of her skin. (Also: OW.)

“So, who do you think gave her the coat?” Sienna insinuates.

The priest demurs, noting they don’t have enough information to imply anything.

Sienna points out that if the girl was so good at the black magicks, there would have been a lot more in the way of, say, injury, let alone hot, crunchy death. Projecting much, Si?

The father points out the politics of it – that too sensitive a situation to accuse anyone outright, but that they should maybe… umm… hold the girl while they do a little more investigation.

Sienna agrees and offers to ward the room in addition to having the guard.

So… that’s interesting – she admits to a little bit of magic to regular people, at least, and the priest doesn’t bat an eye.


Lennox and Cam chat a bit about how easily the woman (they start calling her Veronica, so we know we’re supposed to see her as a person) was captured, and if it was that easy, how did she haul off Clemens-the-fat?

Cam goes to talk to Clemens, because he thinks there’s more information to be found in how he was caught by this wisp of a woman. After an argument with his SHOULDER FAIRY, he discovers The Ambassador has troops in the city – within the village of Upper West, specifically. After seeing the relative luxury that Clemens enjoys, he gets to the bottom of the situation.

Seems as thought Upper West has already been in talks with Washington, and drawn up some agreements.

Also, these aren’t the troops from the boat, these are OTHER troops – MORE troops – who marched up to the city overland (suffering some losses) and were let on the island over the Great Bridge (which Upper West is supposed to guard).


Lennox finds about about the new kids in town, and meets with Logan-the-Lean of Upper East to gain some kind of Solidarity.

Logan agrees, and comments says, “Wouldn’t it be a shame if the soldiers they brought accidentally ran across our `friends’ in the Ramble. Oh no, that wouldn’t be right.”

Lennox agrees. Is he agreeing that it wouldn’t be right, or that the soldiers should have an accident?

Yep, that was deliberately ambiguous.


Joseph has a high-larious moment in the church confessional with his Sekrit Ironwall Fey Contact, who uses the name “Joseph” like a weapon.

Sekrit Contact wants to know what Joseph wants to be, what he wants being “the Kerrigan” to mean. Where he wants to fit in. If he’s going to take on a role in the fey politics, how much self-delusion is he willing to give up?

Just as things start to get interesting, The Ambassador shows up to cop a feel on the local politics and starts insinuating things about our city, trying to draw Joseph out into talking about Our Heroes.

She doesn’t seem terribly impressed with Our Heroes. But she has noticed some “odd things”.

  • One of the most senior borderer in your settlement (Lennox) failed to notice his own nephews had been replaced with Changelings?
  • Cam doesn’t farm, yet he goes to the Park every night?
  • Serena does magic? How? From books? We have many books, but none of our people can do what you say she’s done.
  • Did you know that even the best-glamoured of the Fey still leave a tell-tale, no matter how close they come to appearing human? Something to give them away — a strange birthmark, perhaps, or unnaturally colored eyes, like yours, Joseph…

Yeah, she is not of the comfort-making.


Commerical Break: Ironwall is brought to you by the new Kodacell.


Sienna is in with the animal-skin woman, who wakes up while Sienna does magical stuff — draws wards or something.

“Your magic works?”

Sienna seems nonplussed. “We don’t burn witches here,” Sienna says, maybe over-hopefully.

The girl seems darkly amused – also, apparently, The Ambassador is her sister. The girl’s story is that she stole the skin-coat (part of a Washington R&D about working against the fey) in retribution for Elizabeth Montclair (the ambassador) having lost her moral compass, as well as the Program having devoured the rest of the girl’s family.

Not sure if “devoured” is literal or not.

Sienna feels the girl out to see if she notices anything about the magical wards or any magics around either of them.

Veronica gives no indications that she can feel anything of the sort.

The last visual of this scene is a pan back to see that indeed, the girl is in the middle of some nasty-looking wards, completely oblivious to that fact.


Thanks to Father E, there’s going to be a trial… a not-trial, to see if there SHOULD be a trial: if Ironwall needs to keep Veronica around to stand trial for crimes against the city itself before she is released to The Ambassador.

BEFORE THE TRIAL, CAM’s earring… erm, shoulderfey notices Joseph. The two have lots of side-whispers and facial gesticulation while Cam, Sienna, and Lennox compare notes. Cam and Joseph are sent to make sure that The Ramble (read: the Queen of Flowers, Cam’s Fey-with-Benefits) is alerted to the troops that may cross from Upper West and down to Central if the not-trial doesn’t go The Ambassador’s way. There’s some talk about getting those soldiers to disappear. Permanently.

Cam and Joseph head into the Ramble to make deal with the Queen of Flowers. The deal is voiced such that the QUEEN makes it clear that “If 30 men are taken care of, I will be owed 30 men worth of work.” Somehow, she makes it sound like a group sex scenario will be partial payment.

“She is surrounded by the scent of musk and elderberries and wine…” – Doyce

“You cut-and-pasted that straight from my forebrain…” – Tim

In the meantime, Cam’s “pet fairy” (who is NOT present) is mentioned and the Queen acts unconcerned the influence of pets against her and Cam’s… ugh… connection. Also, she makes lots of allusions to Josephe’s status as “Kerrigan” but nothing outright is said.


Sienna tells Lennox she’ll stand at the trial to say Veronica would only know black magic if it bit her (and at that, only if it wasn’t subtle) – to indicated that there’s no way Veronica created the every-skin coat on her own. But as Father E points out, they don’t have any reason to hold her in protective custody since there’s no crime committed here.

Thus commences THE NOT-TRIAL.

[The conflict at “NOT A TRIAL” is just to find out if they can convince the Board to keep Veronica in Ironwall, against MONTCLAIR’S wishes. MONTCLAIR stands up and defends self. The players get lots of black card failure. FAILURE brings out Veronica to her sister MONTCLAIR’s custody.]

And, again, the show goes against what you’d expect, and Sienna and Lennox lose the argument to the council, who votes to hand Veronica over to The Ambassador.

Lennox, who disagrees with the whole thing and thinks Ironwall should just tell The Ambassador to sod off, and is CLEARLY thinking about just jumping in and “fixing things”, still escorts the Ambassador and Veronica across city to the Q bridge and, from there, to MONTCLAIR’s boat. They get within sight of the boat, looking down on it from the bridge and BOOM BOAT EXPLOSION!

There’s a shot of Lennox’s face, and Sienna’s… and we’re pretty damned sure THEY didn’t do it.

So who did?

END.


Next week, on Ironwall:

  • A voice, to Joseph: “You did have something that would help you remember… but do you remember where it is?”
  • Veronica, to Sienna: “You said you lost your child?”
  • CAM: looks at Joseph “Your eyes seem different somehow.”
  • Someone tells Lennox. “Some of the Board think you’re trying to pull off a coup.” Lennox doesn’t look like he’s denying it.
  • “Did any of the Ambassador’s soldiers enter the Ramble last night? Four are missing.”

Optimizing my free time

I don’t have anything against DnD 4e. In my opinion, it’s a big step up – a real evolution – from the 3rd edition rules.

I don’t have anything against the folks in the monthly game of DnD 4e that I play in. They’re all decent enough folks.

I like my character. I like the way my character works in play. I even like the storyline.

But I’m done.  I was at the game for eight hours on Saturday, not counting travel time, and we managed two fights and one scene that might nominally be deemed ‘role-play’ that ended becoming a player-discussion of the inherent morality (or lack thereof) of groups of adventures who categorize entire sentient peoples by racial stereotypes, then kill ’em and take their stuff.

Fascinating, in a petri dish kind of way, but not what I signed on for, general.

So I’m done.

What shall I do instead?  There’s a weekend writer group that invited me to join in, and I think I’ll do that.

As for gaming in general, I think I’ll stick with things that produce a better fun to time ratio.

Primetime Adventures Pitch Session: Apocalypse Fairies!

So last night we got got together to work through the Pitch Session for a new Primetime Adventures game.

((For those who don’t know, Primetime Adventures is a game meant to emulate action/melodrama television shows. The purpose of play is to create a short-run television series (5 or 9 episodes) driven by the Issues of the show’s stars. Players in PTA are both the Actors of their protagonists as well as Authors of the TV series. The GM (called the Producer in this game) has two jobs: make sure scenes move toward Conflict and work the overall story arc for the Season into play.))

Pitch sessions for PTA are always strange beasts, because people come in to the session with random ideas for shows, almost none of which ever make it through the whole process, and by the end, you have something pretty cool that everyone’s excited about… and no one’s entirely sure how it happened.

I was going to cheat a bit on this post and find a previous post about a PTA pitch session and kind of map what happened then to what happened last night, but it turns out I’ve never written about a pitch session before. No easy-out for me.

Right, so here’s what happened.

First, I was running a little late from a class I was teaching, so we got going around six-thirty or so. I had a notebook in my pocket with a few pitch ideas, and not much else.

So we chatted a little bit and then I asked everyone what kind of television show they didn’t want to see / do. Tim said that he really wasn’t much into the idea of a ‘straight’ one-hour dramedy like Gilmore Girls or Felicity or something like that. No one looked too disappointed by that – I think we’re the sort of folks who expect a little genre weirdness in our TV. Cool.

Meera spoke up and requested we avoid setting things in any war between the Amercian Civil War and today, simply because her history-fu for that time frame was weak. Again, that sounded good to everyone (for myself, I was merely homesick for the “Strange Allies” PTA game we never finished.)

That was pretty much all the “I’d rather not”s for everyone, so we talked a bit about what kind of pitches we had.

Randy piped up (a bit tongue in cheek) with the idea I dubbed “Left Behind… Because You’re An Asshole”, where something akin to the Biblical Rapture occurs, but only people who are, objectively, good people actually transcend.

We talked a little bit around this topic, until I admitted that, while I liked the idea of a kind of “oh crap, all these people are gone, how will we survive?” event, the idea of an event with biblical elements left me pretty cold.

Tim jumped in and said he was also into the idea of a kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story, though not just “straight zombies” in the vein of The Walking Dead, which is an idea I’d mentioned earlier in the week.

((I’d like to pat us all on the back at this point for not mentioning the Swine Flu once the whole night.))

Right around that same point, Tim also mentioned that he enjoyed “resource drama” – where you’re scrounging for supplies and making do with whatever you can find. The A-Team was mentioned, which is a little too camp for me, but also elements of Mad Max and things of that nature.

We threw around a lot of Survival Drama at this point, and talked about the kinds of story arcs you could do in there: a hellbent run from Point A to Point Z, basic survival, defend the base, find a weakness of and destroy the Big Bad… things like that.

I thought it might be interesting to start well AFTER the initial “inciting event,” and Tim agreed, mentioning that flashbacks would certainly explore that event more.

So we tossed around ideas of what the apocalypse might have been. Zombies… vampires… dragons… robots… robots created to fight zombies (yes, seriously), then turning on their owners…

Somewhere in there, Tim commented that some kind of Faerie Attack had never been done as an Apocalypse Event, and I said something like “Well, then we should do that.”

(I believe Meera would like me to state, for the record, that the faeries were not her idea… she just (gleefully) went along with it.)

That seemed to provide quite a lightning rod for ideas after that point, and coalesced into a show concept that The Producer is tentatively calling Ironwall (until we think of something yet more awesome).

SOMETHING had caused the Fae to reemerge in our world, and those fae (a collective term that we decided encompassed everything from fairies and pixies to trolls and dragons to bakemono and oni — all presented in the style of Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth’s art team) were Very Angry. The result of this re-emergence was hundreds of millions if not billions dead (either from fae attacks or from jumping off bridges when they realize that the bogeyman is real).

We tossed around several ideas about WHY they had come back, including:

  • The bio-organism of Earth was calling on its last, most vicious defenders, having failed through the ‘fever’ of Global Warming to control the human disease. “Giant T-cells shaped like Unicorns,” Meera quipped.
  • There was a regime shift in Faerie and the new King really hated us (a la The Golden Army).
  • The thousand-year treaty (involving a drunk Irishman, the King of the Fae, and a lost poker bet) finally ran out.
  • Old iron railway tracks had been torn up, reconnecting long-severed ley lines.
  • Nanites run amok. (which we didn’t exactly love)
  • Starbuck is an angel. (Okay, not really.)

… and in the end we decided it didn’t matter, or that it would come out during the show itself. The basic idea was that humanity was on the ropes, hiding out in the ruins of big cities, where the Iron content was high enough to weaken the fae magic. Something had recently happened to put the status quo in danger, and Our Heroes would be doing something about it.

Tim asked what would be happening that would bring the characters together, and Randy came up with a pretty awesome idea (and the First Scene of the Pilot): somehow the Fae had made it into the City (tentatively, Manhattan – Detroit would work better, but we know nothing about Detroit) where the Settlement was and had swapped in EVERYONE’S children for Changelings. The “First Scene” idea for the Pilot is all these adults dragging their crying, screaming children into the middle of the settlement and throwing them into a bonfire, where the audience finally sees that the people in the hoods and robes are not the bad guys, and that the things in the fire are monsters.

That opening scene lets us do a lot of stuff during the pilot:

  • Explain what the Fae can do with glamours and illusion and the like.
  • Visit a fae stronghold and see how the bad guys roll.
  • Show off the characters in an action-type situation.
  • Get everyone asking questions like “How could they do this? Why didn’t they do it before? WHAT HAS CHANGED AND HOW SCREWED ARE WE?!”

… which is basically everything a Pilot is supposed to do.

There was a bit more background stuff, during which it became clear that SEX was going to be a big element of the story, because the Fey need humanity to refresh their bloodlines (and humans… well, are human, and the Fae are hot and sexy). Plus, Tim made “Sex with Fairies” his character’s main Issue. I wrote all that background stuff down in the Series Bible on the Wiki page, so check it out.

Then we came up with characters:

  • Tim is playing a kind of mechanic-savant with natural animal sex appeal whose Issue is temptation: specifically, sex with faeries: *gasp* SLEEPING WITH THE (hawt) ENEMY.
  • Meera is playing a girl whose black magic led her to cut some pretty unspeakable bargains when the fae first arrived. Her issue is Atonement.
  • Randy is playing a border guard for the settlement – someone who survived another settlement in a smaller town being wiped out. He has issues with control, born of concern for protecting the settlement.
  • And Chris is playing a young man who was taken in by the settlement’s priest when he was a young boy and who has grown up as a pillar of the community. His issue is Self-Worth, because HE IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE FAE, A LYING LITTLE CHANGELING THAT HIS “PARENTS” DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS TO KILL.

Ahem.

So… right. That’s where we are now. Pretty much nothing at all like any of the pitch ideas we’d been thinking of, pretty cool… and no one really knows how we got there.

I’m rather excited to play.

We got our butts kicked by Shadows over Camelot, and it was excellent.

As I’ve said before, I’ve wanted to play Shadows Over Camelot for quite a long time. Two and a half years, probably. This desire hit a fairly significant road block in that neither I nor anyone I knew owned the game, and the price tag on the box discouraged whim-purchase.

I thought I’d found a loophole in February when I bought it for a buddy’s birthday, but it was not to be – he and I were both interested, but the familiarity of Catan lured in all of our playmates and when he went back to NYC, he took the game with him. The nerve.

But a few weeks ago, my darling wife picked up a copy we’d put on reserve, and I basically commandeered Dave’s impromptu game day on Saturday by walking in, pulling out the box, and setting up without so much as a by your leave.

shdowsoc_tabellone
Our version of the game looked something like this, except there were a lot fewer swords accumulated on the Round Table (far right), and the Deck of Evil Events (black deck) does not appear to be dampened with Manly Tears of Regret and Suffering. YMMV on that one, apparently.

So we set up, and I read aloud through all the rules (kudos to everyone for staying awake), and we played.

The basic game works like this.

  • Each player (minimum of 3, maximum of 7) plays a Knight of the Round Table – one of the named ones that you’d probably recognize.
  • You begin in Camelot, around the Round Table.
  • All around Camelot, forces array themselves to bring the Kingdom down. Seriously, there are more things trying drag down Camelot than there are knights to deal with them; (1) Saxons continually raid from the sea, (2) Picts raid from the forests, (3) the armies of Morgan and Mordred assemble Siege Engines to storm the castle, (4) the Black Knight challenges the might of the knights, (5) Despair of ever finding the Grail grows, (6) Excalibur is lost in the Lake, and might never be recovered, (7) Lancelot has abandoned Camelot, and will aid the King only indirectly… if confronted by a knight who can best him in combat, and (8) oh yeah, there’s a dragon.
  • King Arthur goes first, unless no one’s playing him, in which case the youngest player goes first.
  • On your turn, Something Bad Happens. For Something Bad, you either (1) draw from The Bad Deck (black cards) and do whatever it says (for instance, strengthen the Black Knight, Strengthen Lancelot, Grow the Pict or Saxon armies, increase Grail Despair, et cetera – or there’s some REALLY evil things that can happen, usually associated with Morgan, Mordred, or the Queen), (2) place a siege engine around Camelot (see the picture), or (3) lower your own Life by 1 to prevent anything else bad from happening.
  • Once Something Bad Happens, you then do Something Heroic. These heroic things are usually things that act in direct opposition to the Bad Things: Seek the Grail, face off against the Black Knight, lead forces against the Saxons, try to get Excalibur, simply destroy siege engines around Camelot (not at all easy), and things like that.
  • Once you’re done with your turn, play proceeds clockwise to the next Knight, and that simple cycle repeats.

Each of those Threats is basically a nigh-Sisyphean task. For example: you and several other knights might be working like crazy to collect White “Grail” cards to accumulate eight and finish that Grail quest, but EVERY SINGLE time a knight goes, Something Bad Happens, and if they draw a black “Despair” card, then “poof” goes the latest Grail card, and the balance swings back the way of Failure. That same teeter-totter action is happening all over the Kingdom, with slight variations.

And you can’t just place Siege Engines instead – if 12 accumulate around the Castle, then Camelot falls, and they’re damnably hard to eliminate once they’re on the board.

Winning the quests is the way to victory, but each one of those quests requires significant effort. Worse, some of those quests are perpetual (you can defeat the Black Knight, but he’ll just hold another tourney once he recovers; you can defeat the Picts and the Saxons, but they’ll just attack again next year); while others, even when won, cause the forces of Evil to redouble their efforts (once you have the Grail, any “Grail Despair” cards instead become “add another Siege Engine to the board” cards, for example).

So you can really band together to win a quest, but if you do, (a) you’re ignoring other forces attacking Camelot, and (b) once the Big Quests are won, they increase the rate of assault on Camelot.

You can spread out to handle everything at once, but then it’s a war of attrition. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

And by “Tricky” I mean to say “we played it twice and got our butts kicked both times.” Some successful tactics did present themselves, but we weren’t quite putting it all together yet.

That said, it seemed as though fun was had, and there was a strong opinion – dare I say a smoldering fire burning in the eyes of the failed knights – indicating that more play of the game lies in our future.

Then what? What happens when we finally eke out a victory and save Camelot?

Then we finally play the FULL game.

The version where one of the knights is a Traitor.

Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)

Wednesday night rolled around, and we were set to play In a Wicked Age. This was going to be my fourth or so time running the game, the second time for both Tim and Chris to play (revisiting the same characters) and the first time for both Meera and Randy.

Participant background

It’s not unimportant to note that I have a lot of play time with various story-games (not as much as I’d like) and that Tim and Chris have been playing quite a few different games with me in the last year or so, including Galactic, Dogs in the Vineyard, Inspectres, IAWA, and a couple others (I think). Meera’s played a couple of these types of games as well, most notably (in my head) Primetime Adventures. Randy’s played a little PTA, some Dogs, some Sorcerer, and I think that’s about it.

Significant (to me, at least) is that both Meera and Randy have a lot of play time with Amber DRPG (or some variation thereon) – enough that I think it’s fair to say that their experience with that game strongly informs and establishes their modes of play. I don’t say that to malign – I love em both, but the habits that Amber establishes are there, demonstrable, detectable even if you don’t know that’s what you’re seeing, and hard to break.

I bring that up because it mattered in play.

Now, first off, I think the game went well. We had a fun oracle to start out with, and there was a lot of stuff going on.

WHEN WE LAST LEFT OUR HEROES (read: last session)
* Farid Dafir, the marketplace snake charmer, had just reclaimed his rightful place at the head of the animal cult, ousting the woman Eil Bet.
* “Regano” al Aiqtanq, his cousin, had at least temporarily snared the heart of Kianna, the sneak-thief who’d gotten the whole mess with the released genii and the evil spirit started in the first place.

Chris was left at the top of the We Owe list. He picked NEST OF VIPERS as the Oracle and selected the first one. Tim crossed himself off the We Owe list to “just be” in the story.

The Oracles elements (from which one selects a character) are:
* A band of slavers, bold and incorrigible
* A moon gazer, possessed by 10 rival spirits
* Burglary of the storehouse of a powerful robber merchant
* The warden-ghost of the place, generous to the good-willed

Possible Characters, implied or implicit
* Any one of the slavers, including their leader, 2nd in command, or whoever
* Any one of the slaves, ditto
* The moon gazer, possessed
* Any one of the people burgling the storehouse
* The robber merchant, or one of his people
* The warden-ghost

From that, we came up with:

* Chris, playing his cult-leader/animal-charmer Fariq, who is also the moon-gazer with the 10 angry spirits within.
* Tim, playing Regano.
* Meera, playing Jessemyn, one of the slavers, who are all working for…
* Randy, playing Kadashman, the robber merchant and sorcerer.

The NPCs were:
* Natan, Kadashman’s eunuch major-domo, conniving to replace his master.
* Kianna, the thief from the first session, reincorporated as the burglar of the robber merchants ‘storehouse’.
* Saahi, the head of the slavers, in love with Kadashman.
* “Precious Dove”, Kadashman’s prime concubine, his conduit to the spirits he controls through sorcery, the one person who can put Fariq’s spirits at peace, the person Kianna was sent in to “borrow” (kidnap) by Fariq.

Much wackiness ensued. In the end, Fariq had his spirits sorted out, the concubines had all fled, Regaro had kept Kianna safe from the eunuch (who was rolled up in a large rug), and Saahi and Jessemyn were riding out into the desert with an unconscious Kadashman draped over the saddle. It was a pretty good session.

But there were still a few disconnects and weirdness. I, for one, automatically went into post-conflict narration once something wrapped up, and (a) that’s not always my job and (b) the results of the conflict hadn’t been negotiated yet, so I was totally going cart before the horse.

That wasn’t all of it, though. There were a few points in the game when what was going on at the table was sort of churning the water without doing anything, and a few points where the action ground to a halt when I’d turn to a player, ask what they were doing, and get a kind of deer in the headlights look. Analysis Paralysis, Tim calls it, and mmmmmmaybe that’s right. I’m not sure, though.

I am sure (pretty sure) what was causing it though.

Over on his blog, Vincent has been talking about different resolution systems. Specifically, talking about the ways in which the different games’ fictional stuff affects their system stuff, and vice versa.

The cloud means the game’s fictional stuff; the cubes mean its real-world stuff. If you can point to it on the table, pick it up and hand it to someone, erase it from a character sheet, it goes in the cubes. If you can’t, if it exists only in your imagination and conversation, it goes in the cloud.

Bear with me, guys, I’m going somewhere with this.

Continue reading “Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)”